Released in 1972 Exile on Main Street is often referred to as The Rolling Stones’ greatest album and one of the best albums ever made. It certainly wasn’t recorded or produced with “masterpiece” in mind and maybe that partially a reason why it succeeded. The other reason is that it is the definitive and final roots music release from the great 60s and early 70s British and American revival of blues, country and early rock and roll. The Stones were always the one of the genres best practitioners and with his album they put 10 years of experience as a great rhythm and blues band and 7 years of experience as great songwriters to bear. So it’s not surprising the record succeeded.
Exile has a great unified sound. It is rock and roll (and all of it’s many derivatives) personified. The guitars on the album are used to drive and color the songs. Acoustics, electrics, pedal steel are mixed and layered into an ungodly beautiful mix of sound. Listening just to Tumbling Dice or Rocks Off illustrates perfectly Keith Richards approach to making music. The same can be said for acoustic workouts like Sweet Virginia or Sweet Black Angel. He’s a master of rhythm, understatement and subtlety. Every tune has great feel and ambience. It’s been said many times this is Keith’s album and except for Some Girls Exile was the last GREAT Stones album. Neither they or roots music ever sounded like this again.
While Mick Jagger has always distanced himself from Exile he wrote some absolutely slammin’ lyrics that not only worked with the music but perfectly described the USA’s post-60s landscape. He also sang with enough conviction and style to avoid any of this material from descending into parody (which would certainly happen later in the decade). The one criticism I’ve always had is that there is too much of Bobby Keyes saxophone and not enough Mick Taylor. But that is a minor quibble and the songs where Taylor is really cooking: All Down the Line, Stop Breaking Down, Ventilator Blues, Casino Boogie and Let it Loose are awesome! This is an open-tuning G workout album. So grab your Telecaster or whatever ya got and play along to a piece of history. They don’t come any better than this !